Brands that focus on the consumer and forget the shopper could be facing a Valentine’s Day massacre, says Bridgethorne co-founder John Nevens.

With Christmas, the UK’s biggest gifting occasion, just behind us and another – Valentines Day – only six weeks away, brands and retailers should be aware that they need to focus more of their marketing and activation activity on shoppers rather than consumers.

Based on last year’s Valentine’s Day, it is possible that Britons will spend in the region of £975 million on wives, husbands and prospective partners on Valentine’s Day gifts, going out and weekends away. The size of the spend means greater focus has to be made on those actually making the purchasing decisions.

In recent years, the melting pot of short- and long-term trends has created an environment where the shopper is now in a position of greater power. This power shift has been steady and sustained, away from the major brands and suppliers who used to hold all the aces, through the major retail multiples and now to the shopper.

To understand this, suppliers need to accept two important facts:

  • Your consumers are different to your shoppers;
  • YOUR shoppers are different from the retailer’s shoppers.

Everyone must understand that the shopper’s needs are always different to the consumer’s needs.

Take, for example, a guy buying perfume for his girlfriend or wife on Valentine’s Day.

The girlfriend’s consideration set might be that of the scent and personal image.

However, as a ‘shopper’, the boyfriend will likely be influenced by entirely different needs and motivations… price, promotion, display, what the brand he chooses says to his girlfriend about him. He, in this example, is the one who will make the final purchasing decision, whether in-store or online.
However, if he is confronted only by consumer messages, rather than shopper messages, they will never resonate with him and will have little impact upon his purchase decision.

Understanding what drives the shopper, the ‘missions’ they take when they buy and the factors that influence their purchasing decisions is central to long term commercial effectiveness.

This, of course, is not just something for gifting occasions. There are obvious examples of shopper vs consumer every day of the year.

For example, women buy around 75% of all bottled beer in the UK yet men consume 95% of it; mothers buying hair product for their teenage sons; one individual usually buys all of the toiletries (shampoo, deodorant etc.) for use by their family.

With Christmas just behind us, you can also point to those buying a Heston Blumenthal product from Waitrose simply because it would have impressed their guests on Christmas Day!

Failure to acknowledge and address the strategic role of ‘Your Shopper’ as the bridge between marketing and sales activation means suppliers cannot be certain they are reaching the right people, with the right message and at the right time and place.

If this is the case, it must mean that a supplier’s activation activity and the use of their budget will be less than optimal. It could mean that it is, at best, not being spent as effectively as it might; at worst, budget could be being completely wasted.

There will always be a range of factors which shape the shopper’s mission, factors which will heavily influence behaviours.

These can include who the shopper is, where they are purchasing, when they are purchasing, who they are purchasing for, convenience, time available to purchase, whether they are on their way home or on a planned shopping trip, promotional offers, brand loyalty or maybe merchandising.

Consumer behaviours will be more likely based upon emotional and functional consumption needs. For example, satisfying hunger with a bar of chocolate gives a sense of comfort and warmth; eating a nutritious meal makes someone feel like they are following a healthy lifestyle for longer life.

Bridging this gap by understanding, targeting and engaging with shoppers is clearly critical and suppliers need to focus more on the shopper’s journey to the point of purchase.

If marketers at supplier companies are to optimise their chances of success, then their corporate cultures must be changed so that during the strategic planning process the role of the shopper is taken into account alongside the role of the consumer.